Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. It’s a phrase I heard many times growing up. Not only from adults, but even kids on the playground. There are obviously a lot of problems with this phrase, and words can hurt you, and can also be laughed off, but it’s really so much more complicated than all of that, isn’t it? I can see the value in a phrase like this when trying to talk to a child, but eventually you grow up and this phrase doesn’t really hold up in the real world. Words can hurt, they can oppress, they can put you in a box. A box that is nicely labeled with the words, so that every one knows what you are.
Sometimes you get lucky though and find yourself in a good box, with a nice label that everyone likes. Everyone talks about this label and how great it is that we’re seeing more and more boxes with that label. But this box isn’t for anyone. This box is special. This box is just for girls. You talk to all your girlfriends about this special box, but don’t seem to wonder why there are no men in that box. It doesn’t matter because we’re just so lucky to even be able to have this box to finally fit into…
The “strong female character” box.
Isn’t that great? Aren’t we so lucky? To finally have a box to represent the “strong” women of the world?
But wait…why aren’t there any “strong male character” boxes? You know there are men out there that are strong, so why don’t they have a box with this label?
Why does Jon Snow from Game of Thrones get to be brave, caring, courageous, brooding, abrasive, determined, angsty, and a hero? While Daenerys Targaryen, from the very same show, is just strong. A strong female character. (if you want to know what else she is, you can check out my previous post on her, because she really is so much more).
Being labeled as a “strong female character” is actually really limiting to what these women are. It seems to me that men don’t get stuck in this labeled box because being a man and being strong go hand and hand. There’s no need to state the obvious? To be strong, means to be a man. If you don’t believe me then look at what these “strong female characters” are doing to earn this label. Take Katniss, from “the Hunger Games”. She’s not afraid to fight, she doesn’t wear frilly dresses, she’s not afraid to get dirty, or speak her mind, proving she’s every bit as good as the guys. She has “masculine” character traits. Here’s another. Furiosa from Mad Max. She’s not afraid to fight, she doesn’t wear frilly dresses, she’s not afraid to get dirty or speak her mind, proving she’s every bit as good as the guys. One more, just to really drive the point home. Christina Yang, from Grey’s Anatomy. She’s not afraid to fight, she doesn’t wear frilly dresses, she’s not afraid to get dirty or speak her mind, proving she’s every bit as good as the guys. All of these women are labeled as strong because of their masculine characteristics, but they are so much more than that!
And what about the women who aren’t “strong,” the women who don’t embody masculine characteristics?
Is the woman who decides to stay at home and be a housewife weak? The girl who likes to play with barbies and wear pink, not also capable of being strong? Is the woman who admits she is afraid, or the young lady on the street who chooses to ignore the catcalls rather than fighting back… are they not living up to their full potential to be “strong” females?
Hell yeah they’re strong. Just as strong as the ladies up above. And for the ladies up above who are “strong female characters” because of their masculine traits, can’t they be more? Just like the men who get to live their lives not being defined by one thing, aren’t these women of the same? Can’t they also be praised for being smart, funny, athletic, brave, complex human beings? Can’t we just call these ladies what they are. The women on tv aren’t “strong female characters” they are just good characters. The female CEO in your office doesn’t have to be a “strong woman” for making it the biz, while her male business partner is just normal, doing what people would expect of him.
And if you want to argue that I’m taking the label “strong female character” out of context, that it just means they are well written characters, then why are we always so impressed when we see a well written female character on the screen? Why do critics go on and on about the strong female and not the male?
Let’s stop being surprised when there is a female character just as amazing as a man. Let’s not count out the ladies who are quiet and shy as capable of being “strong.” Let’s not assume that men are inherently strong while women are not. Let’s stop thinking that strength is a uniquely masculine trait, and that women are otherwise just a background prop at the man’s disposal. Instead, let’s just call these characters what they really are. Man, woman, gay, straight, trans, they’re all just people. People who are not measured simply their “strength”, but by their character.